Summit Daily News

Rabbi offers religion wrapped in wilderness

By Lu Snyder ,
January 12, 2002

BOULDER – Many people would argue skiing is a religion. For Jamie Korngold, skiing brought her to religion. Now she is a rabbi.

“I was a ski bum for seven years,” Korngold said. “I was a massage therapist in Vail, which is very spiritual work and I was looking for a way to reach more people. For me, my spirituality has always been very connected to wilderness.”

While it might surprise some to hear of a female rabbi, Korngold said it is not unusual – women have been ordained by the Reform movement (of which she is a part) for over 30 years and nowadays, about half of the classes are women.

To know the woman has travelled from ski bum to rabbi, it might not be surprising that she has decided against the traditional rabbinical path of serving a congregation.

There is a shortage of rabbis worldwide, Korngold said. As a result, rabbis often have more demands place upon them than they have time to give to their congregation. This was one of the biggest frustrations she experienced while a congregational rabbi.

So Korngold and a group of friends created Adventure Rabbi Inc.

One might say Korngold is a consultant of sorts. With Adventure Rabbi, she offers rabbinical services to Jews who are not members of a congregation. And because she is not tied to a congregation, her flexible schedule allows her to work around her clients’ needs. She offers life-cycle events – such as weddings – in untraditional settings.

“I’m more than happy to create a wedding that’s on a mountain peak, or as part of a backcountry trip, or a raft trip,” Korngold said.

Korngold prides herself on being able to craft spiritual adventures and ceremonies which are outside the box. And after seven years as a ski bum, five summers as a mountain guide, and an athletic resume that includes the Leadville 100 Trail Run, half-ironman triathlons, and cycling across the country, there is little – if anything – she can’t do for her clients. And that might set her apart from her fellow rabbis.

“I like to call it ‘a la carte rabbinical services,” she said. “Half of what I do is life-cycle events for individuals. The other half is adventurous retreats with a Jewish twist.”

Those retreats could be a day or month long. Korngold wishes only to fulfill her clients needs and desires.

One such retreat stands out among the highlights of her time as Adventure Rabbi.

Korngold knew a couple whom had met each other while working at the Grand Canyon. The couple had since adopted a girl, who was not Jewish, and they wanted to have a conversion ceremony for their daughter in the Grand Canyon. So the group took a week and backpacked into the base of the canyon, where they performed the conversion.

“I think it was a transformative experience for all of us,” Korngold said. “For some of (the guests), Judaism was something very external for them and when they experienced this conversion at the depths of the canyon, Judaism became very alive to them.”

Which, in a nutshell, is what Adventure Rabbi is about: the connection between religion and the spirituality inherent in the natural world, in the wilderness.

“The best part of it is the smiles on peoples faces when I’m able to help them connect – either with a deeper part of themselves, with another person, or with their Creator,” Korngold said.

One of the things that surprised her about Adventure Rabbi, Korngold said, is that people who are not Jewish have come to her for weddings.

“They are looking for something spiritual that is not religious,” she said. “We use the metaphors of the wilderness to create a wedding ceremony that represents who they are as people. It wasn’t something that I anticipated but it’s turned out to be a wonderful part of what I do.”